Major Reforms for New Orleans Police Required

The reforms are some of the broadest and strictest ever required of an LE agency

 


 

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN | Tuesday, July 24, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. attorney general on Tuesday will announce sweeping reforms of New Orleans's long-troubled police department that are some of the broadest and strictest ever required of a law enforcement agency.

The department has been plagued by decades of corruption and mismanagement that were further exposed when Hurricane Katrina swept through the city in 2005, bringing chaos and police shootings of unarmed residents.

Tuesday's announcement by Eric Holder comes on the eve of President Barack Obama's visit to New Orleans, where he will deliver a speech at the National Urban League's annual conference Wednesday.

Developing a new policy on use of force, deadly and otherwise, is part of the agreement. The agreement also will require the department to overhaul policies and procedures for training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision, according to a government official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement had not yet been made public.

Last year, the Justice Department issued a scathing report that said New Orleans police officers have often used deadly force without justification, repeatedly made unconstitutional arrests and engaged in racial profiling.

At the time, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said many problems identified by the report were exposed by Katrina but existed for years before the storm plunged the city into chaos. A spokesman for Landrieu wouldn't comment Tuesday.

The Justice Department's civil rights division also launched criminal probes focusing on police officers' actions after Katrina. The investigations resulted in charges against 20 officers, including five who were convicted last year of civil rights violations related to deadly shootings of unarmed residents less than a week after the storm's landfall.

The officers were sentenced to prison terms of up to 65 years. Five others pleaded guilty to engaging in a cover-up plot that included a planted gun, phony witnesses and fabricated reports.

Rafael Goyeneche, head of an independent police watchdog group in New Orleans, said previous efforts to reform the department lacked enforcement and strong federal oversight. They merely "drove some of the problems underground for a period of time."

The city will have to spend millions of dollars to implement the reforms, Goyeneche said.

Civil rights attorney Mary Howell, who has long been an advocate for victims of police abuses, warned the reforms and federal government oversight will not be a permanent solution to the department's longstanding problems.

Everything we do now needs to be geared towards the day when we no longer have that direct federal oversight," she said.

___

Associated Press reporter Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.



Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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